Love crisp high-acid whites? Then you’ve likely had a glass or two of Sancerre before. This highly regarded appellation is known for producing some of the best expressions of sauvignon blanc in the world, thanks to its cool climate, mosaic of soil types, and overall one-of-a-kind terroir. This is everything you need to know about this small yet fierce wine-producing appellation, as well as a short list of five exceptional bottles to taste to better understand this beloved region.
What Is Sancerre and Where Does it Come From?
Sancerre is a wine-producing appellation (or region) located on the eastern side of France’s Loire Valley, in northwestern France, and wines from this region are commonly called Sancerre as well. The region is best known for its crisp white wines, which are crafted entirely from sauvignon blanc. Although white wine accounts for approximately 80% of the region’s production, small amounts of red wine are made in Sancerre, produced from 100% pinot noir. White wines from Sancerre are dry, light- to medium-bodied and dominated by flavors of citrus, flint, sea salt, honeysuckle and freshly cut herbs.
How Is Sancerre Made?
As with wines from all regions, Sancerre wines are vinified in a variety of styles, and their final flavor profile depends on where exactly the fruit was grown, how it was vinified and in what type of vessel it was aged. Many winemakers in Sancerre choose to vinify and age their wines in stainless steel and without malolactic fermentation, so as to preserve the wines’ natural fruit-forwardness and freshness, although barrel-aged Sancerres do exist.
Sancerre winemakers often practice sur-lie aging, which allows the wine to rest on its yeast cells during the aging process. This process adds texture and weight to the wine without imparting external flavors (for instance, those from oak barrels).
Are Sauvignon Blanc and Sancerre the Same Thing?
Kind of. All white wines labeled Sancerre are produced from 100% sauvignon blanc, meaning that all Sancerre wines are sauvignon blanc. However, not all sauvignon blanc comes from Sancerre.
What Does Sancerre Taste Like?
Sancerre’s detailed flavor details are producer-specific, meaning that a producer’s harvest and vinification choices have a lot to do with the wines’ final flavor profiles. However, generally speaking, sauvignon blanc tends to show flavors of citrus and crushed rocks, marked by ample amounts of zesty thirst-quenching acidity. Sancerre wines are also frequently characterized by “flinty” and mineral-driven notes due to the unique silex soils in which much of the region’s fruit grows.
How Is Sancerre Different from Other Sauvignon Blancs?
As noted above, Sancerre wines tend to show citrusy mineral-driven flavors that are heavily noted by flint, silex and/or notes of gunsmoke. This is as opposed to sauvignon-blanc-based wines from New World growing regions (such as Napa Valley or New Zealand), which tend to show more grassy and tropical-fruit notes.
Which Foods Should I Pair with Sancerre?
The lightning-like acidity and citrus-driven nature of Sancerre wines make them perfect for serving with a variety of happy-hour snacks, including fresh seafood, cheese boards and crudité platters. Additionally, Sancerre wines often pair well with many spicy Asian dishes, provided that the alcohol level in the wine isn’t too high.
These are five bottles to try.
Domaine Daniel Chotard Sancerre Rouge
The Chotard family's winemaking roots in Sancerre date back to 1789. The sustainably farmed fruit for the family's Sancerre rouge comes from 20- to 55-year-old vines and is vinified in a combination of stainless steel and oak. The resulting wine is luscious and mouth-coating, marked by flavors of tart cherries, potting soil and crushed rocks.
Domaine Delaporte Sancerre Chavignol Blanc
This accessible bone-dry Sancerre jumps with flavors of pear skin, green apple, stone fruit and wet rocks. It’s lees-aged in thermo-regulated vats for six months prior to being lightly filtered. Sip it with fresh seafood or pungent goat cheese for an out-of-this-world pairing.
Domaine Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre
This crisp medium-bodied wine, imported by industry legend Kermit Lynch, is loaded with flavors of citrus, apple skin, white flowers and minerals. Its producer’s family has been making wine in Sancerre for more than 400 years. The wine ages on its lees for two to three months in stainless steel and then is bottled around Easter of the following year.
Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Blanc
This organic and biodynamic wine comes from one of the region’s most renowned producers. Fruit for its entry-level Sancerre comes from 30- to 50-year-old vines rooted in chalky silex soils. The wine ferments with native yeasts in a combination of cement and stainless steel and then is aged in tank and bottled unfiltered. Expect notes of lemon, lime, gunflint and coarse sea salt to dominate the wine’s textured, refreshing palate.
Gérard Boulay Sancerre à Chavignol Blanc
Don’t let the relatively modern label fool you. The Boulays have been making Sancerre wines in Chavignol for centuries, with family history in the village dating back to 1380. The wine is fruit-driven and refreshing, marked by ample acidity and a long, lingering finish.